The firm said it will sell its tobacco shares, worth around €200 million, and will also divest its bond exposure to tobacco companies, worth about €1.6 billion.
Incoming chief executive Thomas Buberl says: ‘With this divestment from tobacco, we are doing our share to support the efforts of governments around the world.
‘This decision has a cost for us, but the case for divestment is clear: the human cost of tobacco is tragic; its economic cost is huge. As a major investor and a leading health insurer, the AXA Group wants to be part of the solution, and our hope is that others in our industry will do the same.’
Investing in ‘sin’ stocks, such as tobacco, has been rewarding for investors over the years. A study last year by the London Business School found that the tobacco industry returned more for investors than any other since 1900.
Over the past five years the share prices of Imperial Brands and British American Tobacco (BAT) have risen 69 per cent and 51 per cent respectively, ahead of the FTSE All Share index total return of 28 per cent.
The stocks are popular with UK equity income fund managers, as over the years they have proven to be reliable dividend payers. Neil Woodford has been a fan of the sector for some time, with Imperial Brands the top holding in the Woodford Equity Income fund, while BAT is the fourth largest bet.